The mountain peak at the edge of the ocean

Marc Chagall, I and the VillageIt came to me as my mind wandered in the middle of a sun salutation this morning, a question: if you build up the other selves, will they give you perspective on the dramas of the social self for what they are? Which is: small, unimportant, impermanent?

I saw a flash of an image: three bars on a chart. Then, a revision: perhaps more ecologically, as three large rocks or even mountains, moving and changing shape. And I’ve spent most of the time building up and investing in the social self. When the social self is the peak from which we mostly view our world and the one from which we survey the other selves, or the things important to the other selves, then of course we’ll always have a more social perspective. So if we naturally build up the other selves, if we practice soulful or ecological habits, then we will have a perspective on our entire world viewable from a different place, as well as what will seem a smaller social self. Rather than (as I wrote in an earlier post) having the percentages of experience as soul: 5%, social: 85%, ecological: 10%, it could be 40%/20%/40%. How would that feel/look?

Actually, another revision: I think the question came to me during meditation this morning, following the sun salutations. That was because I am still very early on into my meditation practice, and even in 12 minutes my mind wanders a lot. Although the practice is to gently come back to the object of focus (breathing), it often comes with some form of berating voice about not trying hard enough, etc. Although the tone is wrong (berating, frustrated) the point is correct: meditation is not simply sitting still and letting the mind wander, but is concentrated focus. Without the concentration, it is not meditative practice. It is, in fact, poor practice and is not nurturing the self, but following easy habits.

And so a reminder from the meditative lesson, something I know but come back to again: it’s the same with writing. I could open up my laptop each morning and simply write automatically, letting my mind go where it wants. Although that is important and is itself good practice for, as Natalie Goldberg says, of “burning through to first thoughts”, there is a tendency, with only, say 20-minutes of automatic writing time allotted, to simply fall into a journaling of worries or dramas; for it to be rumination, for it to be planning to be a better person, and not writing practice directed towards an object. If the object is the (social, or soul, or ecological) self, then that is fine, but it can’t be rumination, which is objectless. And objectless writing on its own is not nurturing my writing practice or creativity. It is like sitting down to meditate but simply letting the mind wander without concentrated focus and effort.

If I have an hour, then 20-minutes of automatic writing, followed by 40-minutes of concentrated and focused writing—focused on a path, or experience—is a good practice. But simple journaling of one’s social dramas is not writing.

This issue of  practice is important. In fact, it’s fundamental to why I’m here, writing about the relationships between Soul, Self, and Writer. It’s not a new idea, of course. But there’s something here that I’m interested in, and can point my curiosity towards. As it were, while writing on this blog, the object towards which my concentration is pointed is this relationship.

This concentration is not simply rational or minded. This concentration, for it to properly work, comes from the heart. As I think Chagall said: ‘When I create from the head, nothing works. When from the heart, everything.’ It is heart concentration and focus. It is what Teresa Brennan would call living attention, or love.  It is what David Whyte captures in his poem when he asks:

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

To sustain interest in your work, you must love it, because the concentrated and living attention you give to something that will make it ‘work’ can only come from the heart, not the head. Does this mean from the soul self, not the social self? Yes. Which is why I’m starting to think of the three realms not as equal sizes—back to the mountain/bar chart metaphor.

I guess I’m starting to see the three selves as in some way fitting within each other. And the social self is—should be—the smallest. And my initial next thought was that the soul self is perhaps the largest, within which the other two selves live, like protons within an atom. But then perhaps that is because in many ways the soul self is also selfish, to an extent? It is our soul, even if interconnected to others, even if our best self, even if compassionate. It is still the size of a human (although that size is much larger than the social self). But perhaps when standing on the peak of the mountain of the soul self, what one suddenly realises, in leaving behind the molehill of the social self, and standing on the expansive top of the soul, only then, perhaps, can one gain the perspective that one is, well, wow… standing within something even more present and magnificent than you’d ever realised. And you look up at the sky or down to the ground or dip your feet into the ocean and all of a sudden you come to understand you thought you were standing on the peak of your soul, and in reality you were only at the edge of another self you’ve yet to even begin to explore.

Image: Marc Chagall, I and the Village (1911)


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